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A legacy through words

A Time To Speak, released February 2009 by University Press of Mississippi, explores the public life of a private citizen, and one man’s efforts to do his part to bring a better quality of life to all Mississippians.

Danny McKenzie places Reed’s speeches in context. McKenzie writes on page one: “Jack Reed can pinpoint his ‘defining moment’ of statewide civic involvement, and it was public, very public: January 22, 1963 – when, as president-elect of the Mississippi Economic Council, he stood and spoke to hundreds gathered in the grand ballroom of the venerable Heidelberg Hotel in downtown Jackson for a luncheon and a ‘citizen’s action clinic.’

“…(I)n a little more than two minutes, Reed helped save public education in Mississippi.

“It had been only four months since the chaotic and deadly integration of the University of Mississippi…the cacophony coming from the state Legislature to close all of Mississippi’s public schools…rather than integrate them had reached a crescendo.

“On that January day, speaking boldly and forcefully, Reed told his audience that Mississippi must not only keep its public schools open, but that it should actively promote public education. Before he could finish, most of the legislators had walked out. They were not alone.”

There begins a journey that began at age 38 and still goes on today. The book is divided into 12 chapters, each with its own theme, including:

“1965: Strong words for fellow Methodists” (calling for the merger of the then all-white and all-black Methodist conferences);

“1964-1984: An Indefatigable Champion of Public Education” (speeches surrounding his years as Gov. William Winter’s chairman of the Blue Ribbon Education Committee and first chairman of the Lay Board of Education). (“Indefatigable” is an accurate term – the photograph on the book’s cover shows Reed speaking at age 80 on the steps of the State Capitol calling for full funding for public education.)

Other chapters address the need for leadership, humor and civic involvement for businessmen and women.

The book jacket includes affirmations by President George H.W. Bush, Gov. William Winter, William Raspberry and John Grisham: who all write more articulately than I can about the book and the man and its (his) significance.

His words in a speech in April 1964 to the 15th-annual banquet of the MEC were directed at that organization, but it sums up his own personal mission statement (although he would have never heard of that term then!): “I personally believe it is our duty to guide and create public opinion, not just reflect it – to be a voice, not an echo.

“It is far more important that we be right than we be popular. I do not believe the MEC should ever deliberately seek controversy, but God help us if it sacrifices principle to avoid it.”

I do believe these speeches are convincing evidence that leadership through public speaking can still inspire, encourage, inform, and influence public opinion and behavior. Surely we Mississippians are all better off because Dad felt there was “a time to speak.”
— Jack Reed Jr.
Reed’s Gum Tree Bookstore, Tupelo

A Time To Speak;

Speeches by Jack Reed

by Danny McKenzie

(University of Press of Mississippi)


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